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North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Heather in bloom in Sept courtesy NYork Moors cam Created in 1952, the North York Moors National Park covers 553 square miles. The park is a mix of 40% heather moorland (the largest expanse in England, blooming from July until early September) with the rest being woodland interspersed with dales and farms.

Long Nab Cloughton Wyke courtesy NYork Moors cam Thrown in for good measure is a coastline of rocky shores and high cliffs, scenic fishing villages (Runswick Bay, Staithes, Robin Hoods Bay) and the busy seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough. Sections of the coast are designated Heritage Coast.

Dalby Forest Walk courtesy NYork Moors Cam Natural woodland consists of oak, ash, birch, alder, ash and maple. Scots pines have been planted in areas of acid soil, creating a number of man-made plantations. The Dalby, Cropton and Boltby forests are examples. Wildflowers grow on the grasslands.

Squirrel courtesy Cornwall cam The moors are rich in birdlife and wildlife. Waders such as the golden plover, curlew, lapwing, snipe and redshank winter on the coast. The merlin, a bird of prey, breeds in the heather as do skylarks, meadow pipits and red grouse. Short-eared owls hunt on the moors along with buzzards. In the woods are woodpecker, wrens and woodcocks. Along the coast are nesting seabirds. The rare grey heron lives in the park.

Wet boggy areas provide a variety of insects for the birds to feed on. Unusual butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy and the dark green fritillary, prefer the farming areas. Fox, hares, and shrews live on the heather moors. Badgers and grey squirrels are numerous.

Glaisdale River Esk footpath Yorkshire courtesy Cleveland cam The rivers Esk, Derwent, Rye, Severn and their tributaries, and numerous becks provide water in the park. In times of heavy rainfall roads may be blocked or need to be forded.

Cows and farmland on Bride stones walk courtesy NYork Moors cam Three areas of the park are farmed: the Tabular hills and Hambleton hills in the south and west, the upland dales such as Bransdale and Farndale, and the coastal plateau. Sheep and dairy cattle make up most of the farming activity. Approximately 50,000 sheep, mostly Swaledale, graze the moorlands. Mixed farming with corn and root crops and pastureland is standard in the hills and coastal plain. Characteristic of the farms are stone walls and farmhouses, copses, and hedges.

Rudl and Riggmoor with cairn and Bronze Age tumulus  courtesy NYork Moors cam In the park are many signs of the past. Scattered throughout the moors are prehistoric burial places, more than 3000 in all. The Lyke Wake Walk is a good place to spot them. On the ridge between Bilsdale and Tripsdale is the Bridgestones, an example of burials marked by stone circles.

Cleveland Way path to Easby Moor courtesy NYork Moors cam There are packhorse routes, drover roads and prehistoric trackways. The Romans built roads across the moors. Wade’s causeway runs for 1¼ miles on the edge of Wheeldale moor. The best known Roman site in the moors is the Cawthorn military complex.

Bransdale valley abandoned farm courtesy NYork Moors cam German immigrants followed the Romans after AD 400, establishing land use patterns. Other villages date from the Norman conquest. The manorial system of the middle ages took hold, and many large estates acquired moorland. The 17th century saw the enclosure of common land for farming.

St Georges Minster Kirkdale North Yorkshire Moors by Barbara Ballard Village churches and historic abbeys tell of Christianity’s influence in the moors. The Danes sacked Whitby abbey and Lastingham. In 1069, William I laid waste to the area. The monks sprang back, establishing monasteries and priories: Rivevaulx in 1131, then Byland abbey, Guisborough, and Mt Grace priory in 1398. It was the monks with their extensive sheep grazing on the moors that helped create the heather landscape and hastened the growth of the wool trade.

Helmsley Castle ditch by Barbara Ballard Castles ringed the moors for defense. Most no longer exist in any form. However, remains are found at Scarborough (built in 1136 and scene of much action), Pickering (visited by kings when hunting), Danby (built in the 14th century and now part of a farmhouse) and Helmsley (built in the 12th century with two ditches with a double bank surrounding the keep).

Hawthorn Dene railway viaduct courtesy NYork Moors cam Although mining was practiced in the moors in prehistoric times, it wasn’t until the advent of the railroad in the early 19th century that mining took off. Iron ore was mined in the Cleveland Hills, Eskdale and Rosedale. Coal was dug for fuel for lime kilns. Grosmont was home to a smelting works. Limestone, alum and potash were taken from the land.

Raisdale Mill courtesy NYork Moors cam Buildings used local grey limestone, honey coloured limestone or brown sandstone. The brown sandstone from the moors near Whitby was used in building the Houses of Parliament and Covent Garden. Red pantile roofs are traditional to the area.

NYorkshire Moors Railway steam train courtesy NYork Moors cam Railways played their part in the park. A network of lines developed on the moors and included a Whitby to Grosmont line and an Esk valley to Middlesbrough one. From Pickering a line ran to Grosmont. This line has survived as a one hour tourist trip after being taken over and restored by the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust. A train runs along the river Esk valley with a stop close to the Danby Moors Centre.

NYork Moors Centre Danby interior courtesy NYork Moors cam The Moors Centre is an excellent introduction to the park. Free admission includes a video and a living landscape exhibition. There are walking trails, a wildflower garden, books and a tearoom.

North York Moors cross Young Ralph courtesy Lakeland cam Running along the coast is a 30-mile cliff top path. The Cleveland Way between Helmsley and Filey follows ¾ of the perimeter of the park. A 37-mile walk links Roseberry Topping and the White Horse at Kilburn. Another walk follows the crosses on the moors that are a mix of parish boundary markers, way markers, religious crosses and memorials. Ralph’s Cross is a famous one and is used by the park as its emblem.

Roseberry Topping by Cleveland cam St Aeldred, 12th century abbot of Rievaulx said of Rye dale, ‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.’ Today the statement holds true for much of the North Moors National Park, where wilderness and solitude are still available for the asking.

Visitor Information

National Park Officer
North York Moors National Park Authority
The Old Vicarage
Bondgate, Helmsley
York, YO62 5BP
Tel. 01439 770657

Sutton Bank National Park Centre
Six miles east of Thirsk
7.5 miles west of Helmsley at the top of Sutton Bank on the A170.
Tel. 01845 597426
Open: April-Oct, daily 10am-5pm; March, Nov and Dec daily, 11am-4pm; Jan and Feb, weekends only, 11am-4pm.

Moors National Park Centre
¾ of a mile outside Danby in the Esk Valley
Open: April-Oct, daily 10am-5pm; March, Nov and Dec daily, 11am-4pm; Jan and Feb, weekends only, 11am-4pm.
Tel. 01439 772737

Don Burluraux of North York Moors Cam (no longer on the internet) generously provided many of the photos for this article. Other photos are courtesy Cleveland Cam. Other photos by Barbara Ballard.

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